Malaysian Government Blocks News Portal After Najib Probe Report

Hata Wahari
Kuala Lumpur
2016-02-25
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160225_MY_TMI_620.jpg Malaysians opening The Malaysian Insider website found this government notice instead, Feb. 25, 2016.
BenarNews

The Malaysian government on Thursday blocked a popular news website after it published a report saying there was credible evidence to frame charges against Prime Minister Najib Razak over a scandal linked to debt-laden state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The ban, which coincided with the eighth anniversary of the founding of The Malaysian Insider, made it inaccessible to readers in Malaysia.

"This is an unpleasant surprise, and we are awaiting clarification from the MCMC, but we have not received any notice from the commission regarding violation of Malaysian law," Jahabar Sadiq, chief executive officer of the news group, said in a message to BenarNews, confirming the ban.

In a statement, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) said it had blocked the site for violating section 233 of the nation’s 1998 communications law, which bars obscene or offensive use of network facilities.

“The MCMC warns news portals not to spread or broadcast articles of uncertain validity, which can cause confusion and undesired situations,” the statement went on to say.

Malaysia’s Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ) blasted the move.

“This is clearly an assault on media freedom, freedom of information and Malaysia’s promise for a free Internet,” it said in a statement.

Rebuttal

Meanwhile, two members of an independent panel that advises the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) rebutted the Malaysian Insider report, which cited an unnamed member of the panel.

“We wish to state that no anonymous source is authorized to speak for and on behalf of the panel under any circumstances,” Operations Review Panel (ORP) chairman Hamid Bugo and member Mohamed Jawhar Hassan said in a press statement.

“We further wish to add that panel did not at any time say that it had ‘enough proof to charge Najib over SRC’, as claimed by the title of the article, or that ‘there is credible evidence to frame charges against Datuk Seri Najib Razak’,” the statement went on to say.

SRC International is a subsidiary of indebted state investment fund 1MDB that has been probed for alleged misappropriation of funds. Najib is chairman of 1MDB’s advisory board.

The Malaysian prime minister has also faced investigations over a $681 million (2.6 billion ringgit) deposit into his personal bank account in 2013 amid reports linking the money to 1MDB.

Najib has insisted he did not take any money for personal gain.

Last month, Malaysia’s Attorney Gen. Mohamed Apandi Ali cleared Najib of potential corruption charges after receiving the MACC’s report into the matter, which was not made public.

But the MACC later referred the case to the eight-member ORP, an independent body set up to monitor MACC operations and review cases that are not taken to court for prosecution.

On Wednesday, MACC said the panel had asked it to reopen its investigation into the controversial donation, and resubmit investigative findings on SRC International to the attorney general for review.

“We found there is strong evidence to pursue further investigations and action," one of the panel members told BenarNews, speaking on condition of anonymity.

‘Crackdown’

The Malaysian Insider is the second news site to be blocked this year after the Hong Kong-based Asia Sentinel suffered a similar fate on Jan. 29.

“Malaysians should be very concerned with the increased cases of Internet censorship by the government in recent months, signaling worse days ahead,” the CIJ statement said.

The Sarawak Report, a Malaysia news website based in the United Kingdom, has been blocked within Malaysia since July 20, 2015.

CIJ also claimed that blog hosting site Medium has been blocked since January, apparently because it published an article from the Sarawak Report.

“The government alleges the article to be false, unsubstantiated and misleading and has since denied access to Medium and its diverse body of content in entirety,” it said.

“For the average Internet user in Malaysia this also means having one less space for expression and exchange. It is akin to blocking the whole of YouTube because of one video that offends the government, or all of Facebook because of a single post the government deems ‘problematic’.”

The events unfolded a day after global rights watchdog Amnesty International said in its 2015/16 annual report that in Malaysia, “the crackdown on freedom of expression and other civil and political rights intensified” in the past year.

At least 15 people, including cartoonist Zunar, were charged for violating the amended Sedition Act, Amnesty noted. Malaysia amended the law in 2015 to cover electronic media and to include harsher, mandatory prison sentences.

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